I had a hard time knowing what to call this ... poached barley seems to be the best description, but it could just as easily have been barley risotto. This is a fabulous wholefood accompaniment to lamb stew (I made one last night with the end of a joint of lamb from the weekend, with three times as much onion as meat). It's also good alone, if you make it with good stock.
Now I don't know about you, but I have a bit of a horror of the idea of wholefoods as a concept. It puts me in mind of the 70s - brown food and unkempt beards. And yet I love many of the ingredients that are covered by the word wholefood.
Barley is a case in point - it's one of those underrated ingredients that tend to be ignored by most of us. Certainly it's years since I've cooked it. At school we were given a rather grey lamb stew made with scrag end of neck eked out with lots of flabby barley. (Why did they call it pearl barley?) So, above all, I wanted to avoid overcooking it. And even though it's about as cheap as food gets, I wanted to treat it with care and attention. I've overcome the brown look, taste and texture by chopping in a huge handful of herbs at the end ... yum.
Poached barley with herbs
Marsala or other wine
A big handful of herbs
I used a handful of barley per person (it enlarges with cooking, but not alarmingly so), then stirred it around my risotto pan in a little olive oil, exactly as if I was making risotto. When it was nearly sticking, I splashed in a glug of Marsala to loosen it. Then chicken stock to cover. I simmered this for half an hour, without covering, and stirred it from time to time, although no need to stand close by as if making risotto. I topped up the stock after a while, but this is emphatically not a little-and-often topping up as for risotto - this is more of an oops, should have put in more in the first place.
After half an hour, I took it off the heat and let it stand for nearly an hour. I did this mainly for my own convenience, but it had the effect of allowing the grains to absorb more stock without overcooking. Then I reheated it for 10-15 minutes. At this point I chopped in a huge handful of chopped herbs, what I could find in the garden ... parsley, sage, tarragon, a tiny bit of oregano, chives. Rosemary would have been good too, but I didn't think of it as I passed the bush.
Really good; springy grains sweet with the flavours of the stock and the wine, given piquancy by the last of the summer herbs.
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